Historical Fever Dreams

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These four titles, while rooted in real history, places and folklore, take their historical foundations and build stories that feel both fantastical and authentic.  

While nothing magic happens in Alexander Chee’s “The Queen of the Night,” the plot is sweeping and operatic, befitting its mysterious diva protagonist. It’s full of scenes and imagery that will stick in your mind years after you’ve read it – from a burial in the frozen Canadian earth to a bittersweet romantic assignation in a Paris garden against the backdrop of a burning city 

Similarly, “The Warlow Experiment” is based on a real advertisement that the author, Alix Nathan, came across in an 18th century newspaper, and the story plays out the scenario according to the time and place. But the nature of the experiment is so extreme, its success dependent on the subject and the experimenter not being flawed human beings, that the outcome inevitably goes to dark and subtly surreal places. 

Maisy Card’s book “These Ghosts Are Family” is a series of interlinked stories that spans generations of one family through time and place, from the cane fields of Jamaica, to the docks of England, to an apartment building in Harlem. It starts with what might be a sordid but realistic history: a man takes the identity of a coworker and flees his old life and family for another country. It ends with an account of three abandoned girls who may or may not have transcended life and become something otherworldly. In between the links and severances of relationships lay bare the pain and love in human connection.  

“Deathless,” the most fantastical of these selections, reimagines the figure of Koschei the Deathless, a villain of Russian folk tradition. Cathrynne M. Valente sets her story in the turmoil of Russian Revolution in Leningrad, mixing the bureaucracy of Communist living with the world of committees of house browniesTsars of Night and deaths hidden in eggs. This complicated love story between a girl and a deathless supernatural being, about a girl surviving a harsh world and finding her own magic, is so much more than the usual tragic fated love story of fairy tales. 

Get lost in one of these worlds today! 

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Throughout her childhood, Marya Morevna watches as, one by one, enchanted birds fly to her house, turn into men with important positions in the military and take her sisters away to be married. Finally, it is her time to find out who her husband will be. She has been chosen as the bride of Koschei the Deathless, brother of Baba Yaga. Once she experiences the long and strange journey to his kingdom and is confronted with her position there, she decides never to be so passive in the concerns of her life again. You can also check out this title as eBook on OverDrive/Libby.

The Queen of the Night

On her journey to become one of the most celebrated voices on the planet, Lilliet Berne is offered the chance to be engraved into history: the leading role in an opera written specifically for her voice. When she realizes the opera is an account of her own secret past, she knows she was deceived by one of four people. To find the person who sold her out, Lilliet must overcome her former life by taking on multiple identities, navigating a world of politics, and accepting the patronage of unwanted, obsessive lovers. She has one of the most unique, exquisite voices ever heard, but will her unearthed past be the end of her career…or her? You can also check out this title as eBook on OverDrive/Libby, as eAudio on OverDrive/Libby or as eBook on Hoopla.


The Warlow Experiment

Herbert Powyss, aspiring scientist and part of the landed gentry of Wales, decides to make his name by paying a poor man handsomely to live in a prepared suite of rooms in his cellars for seven years. He will write a paper on the effects of isolation on this person. The only man to apply, John Warlow, immediately thwarts Powyss’s painstaking plans by not appreciating any of the intellectually enriching objects in his self-imposed prison and barely being able to write daily diary entries. In fact, the next seven years are nothing like either of them expected, creating profound changes in their lives and circumstance.